PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Hurricane Irma could pose a serious threat for many days to come, and all interests from the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico to the Bahamas and the U.S. East Coast should continue to monitor its progress very closely.
The center of Irma is located 790 miles east of the Leeward Islands and is moving just south of due west at about 14 mph. On Sunday morning, Irma strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane, and some additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours.
Hurricane watches have been issued for portions of the Leeward Islands.
This includes Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.
For the next five days, Irma will move west-southwestward, then west-northwest again on the south side of a ridge of high pressure called the Bermuda high, centered in the central Atlantic.
Some intensity fluctuations are likely, but overall Irma is expected to gain strength and it could become a Category 4 hurricane in the days ahead. Irma is also expected to grow in size which would lead to a larger area of tropical storm-force winds and hurricane-force winds.
Uncertainty remains surrounding where Irma will track beyond five days due to the complex interaction of Irma with the upper-level weather pattern expected late this week in the western Atlantic and the eastern United States. That weather pattern evolution is important for determining where Irma will track in relation to the U.S. East Coast either next weekend or early in the second week of September.